British Columbia

City defends decisions leading up to Balmoral Hotel evacuation

The city explains why it decided to evacuate the Balmoral Hotel at this point and how it managed to find 140 social housing units to house displaced residents.

SRO was deemed uninhabitable after city's chief building inspector feared structure would collapse

Tenants at the Balmoral Hotel have long complained about unsafe living conditions. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The City of Vancouver is defending its actions leading up to the evacuation of the Balmoral Hotel, a derelict SRO hotel in the city's Downtown Eastside.

On June 2, the city ordered the 176-room building be evacuated by June 12, after the chief building inspector determined water damage and rot put the structure at risk of collapsing.

The Balmoral Hotel has had a long history of disrepair and mismanagement.

The building is the subject two class-action lawsuits — one aimed at the city for not exercising its powers to force repairs earlier, and another targeting the building's owners, the Sahota family, for allowing the building to fall into such a state.

Maria Wallstam was part of a rally Sunday put on by the SRO Collaborative and the Carnegie Community Action Project in front of the hotel.

Wallstam questioned why the city waited until the building was near collapse before stepping in.

"They waited to the point that the building is at risk of actual structural collapse, forcing the tenants out with a 10 day eviction notice. That's unacceptable," she said.

"We need the city to step up right now ... they have allowed the situation to happen."

City working for 'years' to solve issues at Balmoral

Deputy City Manager Paul Mochrie said the city has been working for years on issues related to the Balmoral and other SROs owned by the Sahota family.

"It's not the case that there's been nothing done. There have been years of enforcement against this building and action taken to ensure these issues are fixed," he said.

Mochrie said in situations like this, the city needs to balance a private landlord's decisions, with the shortage of low-income housing units in the city.

He also pointed out the city doesn't have the authority to mandate how these buildings are managed or secured.

The latest problems, however, went too far.

"I think what we're seeing now with this facility in particular are really significant structural problems that were not possible to identify without a very invasive assessment that the engineers had to do.

"This is an absolute last resort for us. This is something that we were looking to avoid. We do not want to be displacing people from their homes."

Residents housed

At present, the city says nearly all the evacuated Balmoral Hotel tenants have been relocated to social housing.

Mochrie said the city was able to find 140 units quickly — within 10 days — by expediting regular unit turnover.

"There are 7,200 SRO units in the City of Vancouver, so there is stock turning over at all times," he explained.

"People have been working literally around the clock to make sure rooms can be available faster than they normally would for people that have been displaced from the Balmoral."

As for what happens next, Mochrie said city employees have been in daily contact with the Sahotas.

According to a city order, the Sahotas have until July 14 to shore up the building.

"Our expectation right now is that this building will be returned. That's our objective."

Listen to the interview with Deputy City Manager Paul Mochrie on CBC's The Early Edition: